Kate DeWinter

When the majority of us are asked why we exercise, unless we’re training towards an event, the response is likely to be to achieve a healthy and attractive body shape.

When then asked what we are doing to get those results, the common response will be ‘running’, ‘cycling’, ‘swimming’, or another constant-intensity exercise performed for a certain duration of time. In other words, ‘steady state cardio’.

This response stems from the incorrect belief that steady-state cardio is the best way to lose weight/fat and get fitter. We often get told the fundamental myth that working within the ‘fat-burning zone’ is the key. The truth is if you do not get your heart-rate high enough and feel the intensity of the exercise, you will struggle to progress.

There are several limitations of Steady-State Cardio (SSC) for fat burning:

-          In recent years SSC has shown to provide very limited weight-loss results, mostly attributed to an increase in appetite and exercisers overestimating how many calories they burn whilst underestimating how many consumed.
SSC leads to 'skinny fat'; a high-fat, low-muscle physique that isn’t strong, muscular or attractive.

-          Those losing ‘weight’ via SSC gain it back because their bodies become metabolically inefficient making storing fat more likely and burning fat more difficult.

-          SSC is not beneficial for several of the key indicators of health and longevity: Muscle Mass, Strength, Metabolic Rate and Body Fat Percentage. In fact cardio done in excess can mean a reduction in these factors.

The solution? Incorporating cardio intervals and strength-training into your routine. The latter is a critical component of any program that emphasises long-term fat loss.

An elevated calorie burn during a SSC training session will soon return to normal-levels following the workout, whereas interval and strength training trigger an extended calorie burn. 
Long term gains in lean body mass from high intensity cardio and strength training mean you are burning more calories constantly, even when lying on the couch. You'll find that those with experience, who've had success with sustained fat-loss, have learned to focus on how their bodies burn calories outside of workouts, rather than the calories burned within a session.
Add to this the unrivaled fitness gains achieved via interval type workouts, we develop the athletic ability to efficiently burn a lot of energy in future training sessions.

The bottom line; steady state cardio is certainly useful if your goals are to improve general health, mood and energy levels, or if you are training towards a specific endurance event. However if your goals are fat-loss, performance and shape, there are superior alternatives.